‘Sea Fever’ Review: An Expertly Crafted Creature Feature with Purpose | TIFF 2019

     September 7, 2019


It’s always a big thrill to find a disaster movie that challenges the viewer to consider what choices he or she might make in such an extreme scenario, but it’s a welcomed added stressor to find one that dares you to do so with a concept so directly tied to very real predicaments we’re steeped in every day. Sometimes it’s easier to assess character and timely issues through the lens of a big screen thriller and that’s most certainly the case with Sea Fever.   

The movie stars Hermione Corfield as Siobhán, a marine biology student who’s happy to keep her head in her books and stay in the lab, but part of her program requires field experience. She’s assigned to a trawler with a close knit crew determined to make a much-needed big catch. Soon after setting sail, panic sets in and festers when a mysterious creature latches onto the boat, slowly turning their venture into a mid-ocean nightmare.

Sea Fever is a creature feature, and a very effective one at that, but what makes it stand out from the pack are the themes writer-director Neasa Hardiman weaves into it. Siobhán isn’t simply a cookie-cutter smarty pants who figures out how to save the day, rather someone who deeply respects the connection between man and the environment. That being of the utmost importance to Siobhán adds an especially interesting wrinkle and type of tension to the piece that Corfield runs with exceptionally well. 


Image via TIFF

It can’t be easy commanding the screen next to heavyweights like Connie Nielsen and Dougray Scott, but Corfield firmly establishes that Siobhán is the driving force of this film. She rocks a naturally captivating presence that serves her well selling Siobhán as a capable marine biologist while also establishing a unique connection with every single member of the crew. Siobhán is the outsider, and Hardiman uses that role to further showcase that we’re all in this together. The crew includes Scott and Nielsen as the couple in charge and their team played by Olwen Fouéré, Jack Hickey, Ardalan Esmaili, and Elie Bouakaze. They’re an at-sea family with loads of experience and shared superstitions, but they’re also at different stages of their lives and dealing with their own unique challenges that are often highlighted through their interactions with Siobhán. Not only do these connections add to the tension as things get more dire, but it winds up functioning as a microcosm for the world at large. It doesn’t matter who you are; if one of us doesn’t respect the Earth and the creatures in it, the ripple effect could be detrimental.

But of course, coming to terms with that might not always be easy, especially when in the thick of a life or death manner. You’re all alone in the middle of the ocean and a never-before-seen bioluminescent octopus-like creature grabs hold of your boat; you’d likely go into defensive mode. Sea Fever is a push-pull experience from start to finish. Would you sacrifice yourself to save others? Would you attempt to understand before you attack? By having very grounded human beats playing out right alongside this almost out-of-this-world creature attack, Sea Fever gives you a big thrill but with a ton of depth. Keep an eye on Scott’s character in particular. His willingness to put people at risk in one sense but not another is upsetting, but also presented as a sensible human error given the circumstances.


Image via TIFF

As far as the creature attack and the horror of the situation goes, every single department of Sea Fever is operating at peak performance. Hardiman and cinematographer Ruairí O’Brien work wonders capturing the isolation and close quarters of the boat, starting with the discomfort of Siobhán being stuck with a crew that doesn’t want her there and then embracing the tension and sheer panic as things escalate. The creature effects aren’t always on point but that’s restricted to a very small handful of shots. Instead, Hardiman smartly focuses on the smaller creature details. They may be smaller in scope, but they evoke maximum terror and visuals that are tough to shake.

Sea Fever is a nightmare you can’t take your eyes off of and can’t stop thinking about after it wraps up. It’s a highly engrossing and entertaining way to challenge assumptions and reactions to the unknown. Hopes are high this smartly crafted thriller will put Hardiman, a very accomplished TV director, on the map for more feature projects soon. She’s clearly got a deft handle on building tension and delivering a cinematic thrill with purpose.

Grade: A-

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